By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 26, 2004; 8:23 AM
It was a battle of the conference calls yesterday.
This is what campaign reporters do for a living in these days of rapid response.
In the old days, one side would put out an ad and maybe fax you a script. The only way you could see the ad was to go to the candidate's office or have a messenger pick up a videotape. Then you'd call the other side for response.
How quaint all that seems now.
Word of the latest Bush ad, hitting Kerry on the Patriot Act, leaked late last week. By Monday, the Bush camp was sending off a mass e-mail softening up the senator on the issue.
Early yesterday came another BC'04 e-mail, telling reporters that former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik would be talking about the ad in an 11 a.m. conference call. This is the new fashion, drafting surrogates to help out with the talking points and attract some journalistic attention.
But wait! The Kerry camp followed with a preemptive conference call, an e-mail announcing that former deputy attorney general Eric Holder and admiral William Crowe would field questions at 10:30.
No one had seen the Bush ad at 10:30, but no matter. Crowe called it "sort of laughable," and Holder said the GOP was using the Patriot Act "as a wedge issue" and that Kerry had been "tough" and "reasonable" on anti-terrorism efforts.
Half an hour later, Kerik called Kerry's approach to the Patriot Act "nonsense" and "absurd." And the Bush team posted the ad online so reporters (and anyone else who's interested) could watch it.
Both sides sent out e-mails, defending and attacking the ad. The DNC added its own, with Chairman Terry McAuliffe saying "it is the Republican Party that has repeatedly politicized national security, the war on terror, Iraq and 9/11."
At 5:07 p.m., the Bush campaign fired off a summary of the day's e-mail traffic, including a statement by Kerik, a link to the conference call and "The Raw Deal: John Kerry's False Attacks on Gas Prices."
At 5:19, the Kerry camp distributed a quote from GOP Chairman Marc Racicot, speaking of lawmakers who want to amend the Patriot Act, that the law would involve "an ongoing dialogue and process of refinement."
You can be an intrepid correspondent these days without ever leaving your desk, except for bathroom breaks.
The issue is how Kerry could be criticizing the law--indeed, he wants to replace it with a version that is more attentive to civil liberties--after voting for it. The Bush camp used the same argument in an ad about the No Child Left Behind law. In both cases, Kerry doesn't propose what the ads say he does. I critique the new spot here.
Kerry, for now, is sticking with his positive bio spots while Bush/Cheney continues to pound him with negative ads.
This just in: The New York Times admits its WMD reporting was flawed! And it wasn't aggressive enough in following up on claims by Iraqi defectors and administration officials! Read all about it here.
And here's the lengthy editor's note itself.
On Iraq, the U.S. is still scrambling, according to the Los Angeles Times:
"Senior administration officials scrambled today to try to convince skeptical allies and critics that President Bush meant it Monday when he told the nation and the world that the United States intends to transfer 'full sovereignty' to Iraqis on June 30.
"But the administration seemed at odds with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, its closest ally on Iraq, over whether an Iraqi interim government would have veto power over the operations of U.S.-led forces after the June 30 handover.
"At a London news conference, Blair indicated that the Iraqis would have a veto. U.S. officials have said that had not yet been decided."
Why can't Kerry break through on this issue? The New York Times provides a strong hint:
"When it comes to Iraq, it is getting harder every day to distinguish between President Bush's prescription and that of Senator John Kerry.
"They still differ on some details, and Mr. Kerry continues to assert that Mr. Bush has lost so much credibility around the world that only a new president can rally other nations to provide the necessary assistance, a point he made Tuesday while campaigning in Oregon.
"But as became evident with Mr. Bush's latest speech on Iraq on Monday night, which followed a detailed speech Mr. Kerry gave on Iraq's future one month ago, the broad outlines of their approaches are more alike than not. That is particularly true as Mr. Bush moves toward giving the United Nations more authority, a move long advocated by Mr. Kerry."
For the most part, the Chicago Tribune reports from Oregon, Kerry is proceeding cautiously:
"Though Sen. John Kerry planned to focus his appearance here Tuesday on the issue of high gasoline prices, a question from the audience provoked a sharp comment on the Bush administration's Iraq policy.
"'It is an unbelievable statement about the failure of the diplomacy of this president and this administration' that Europe and the Arab countries have sat on their hands even though they are more threatened by the prospect of Iraq as a failed state than the U.S., Kerry said. 'That tells you everything about the arrogance and ineptness of this administration that needs to be changed,' said Kerry, the Massachusetts senator who is the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee.
"For many weeks, Kerry has been reluctant to forcefully attack the Bush administration at every turn for its actions in Iraq. The approach has been largely one of allowing the bad news from Iraq--the continued violence and the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison--to serve as its criticism of the Republican administration.
"On the way to Portland aboard his new campaign plane, for instance, reporters asked Kerry whether he had watched the president's speech on television. Kerry said he had watched half of it. Asked to comment on the president's proposal to raze the notorious prison, Kerry demurred, throwing up his hands and saying he would have a response later."
In basketball, it's called a four-corners stall.
The Boston Globe finds Democratic officials who like Kerry's flirtation with postponing the nomination.
"It is the big payoff of every political convention, the moment that makes the years of backbreaking ward and precinct spadework worthwhile. The party's pick takes the stage and speaks the magic words: I accept your nomination for president. The crowd goes wild. The balloons drop. Triumphant fists pump the air . . .
"But to hear Democratic party officials from across the country tell it, delegates won't mind missing out on the traditional climax of the national political convention one little bit. Kerry must do whatever it takes to beat President George W. Bush, they say."
But George McGovern (whose own nomination was delayed--until 3 a.m.--by a fractious convention) thinks it's a bad idea, says USA Today.
According to the New York Times, an Army summary of deaths and mistreatment involving prisoners in American custody in Iraq and Afghanistan shows a widespread pattern of abuse involving more military units than previously known.
The cases from Iraq date back to April 15, 2003, a few days after Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled in a Baghdad square, and they extend up to last month, when a prisoner detained by Navy commandos died in a suspected case of homicide blamed on "blunt force trauma to the torso and positional asphyxia."
National Review's James Robbins disses critics of the Bush speech:
"The five-point plan the president outlined is logical and self-explanatory, and the details will be hammered out as the political process evolves. Yet, the proposal came under immediate attack. Listening to the critical responses to the speech one was struck by their deep, empty pessimism.
"The president's critics have no counter proposals, no suggestions for improving the situation in Iraq, only hypothetical disaster scenarios and relentless negativity. They seem to delight in subtly (and sometimes not so) mocking the president's idealism, offering instead their own fashionable cynicism, the sophisticated lethargy of those who claim to be the successors to the New Frontier. But one could see from President Bush's spirited delivery that he believes what he says.
"It may be considered unsophisticated to engage in hopefulness, but it helps us maintain our focus and pursue the strategic objectives of the war. The president's stance is not false optimism or focus-group-produced triangulation delivered with a smirk -- it is honest, and those who oppose the president's policies should, if they were up to it, at least give him credit for his beliefs."
But the speech was so much hot air, says the New Republic's Spencer Ackerman:
"It's not the symbols of sovereignty Iraqis want; it's the actual sovereignty, which Bush has promised them since November and now is not going to sufficiently deliver. The president's approach, to both the American public and the Iraqi people, is to essentially renege on a promise and insist that we've kept our word. That is a formula for further deterioration. Unless Bush recognizes this and shifts course, the Iraq addresses he's planning to deliver over the next several weeks may prove to be a lead-up to his concession speech this fall."
In Salon, Michael Lind ups the rhetorical ante:
"George W. Bush began and ended his speech with a brazen lie. He claimed that the United States is in Iraq to fight al-Qaida.
"Before the war, Bush, Cheney and the neoconservatives did all they could to convince the American people that there was some link between Saddam Hussein's tyranny in Iraq and al-Qaida. They succeeded in deceiving a large number of Americans. Now Bush is trying the same trick again. He is trying to justify his failed and unnecessary war in Iraq by parading, once again, the corpses of those murdered by Osama bin Laden and his followers in New York, Washington and Bali. The shamelessness of George W. Bush is matched only by his contempt for the intelligence of the American people."
Andrew Sullivan gives the War College address a B-plus, "but I must also add some comments about the manner of Bush's speech. He seemed exhausted, which is hardly surprising. But he also seemed defensive. He doesn't want to concede errors, because, in this polarized climate, the opposition will seize on them for their own narrow purposes.
"But he should trust the public and dwell more on the inevitable setbacks and failures of warfare. He should not be afraid to tell us when we have suffered losses. He should not be wary of conceding that he and everyone else under-estimated the strength and tenacity of the insurgency. He still seems brittle to me in his accounts of what has transpired. It makes optimism less credible and hope more elusive."
American Prospect's Mary Lynn Jones tackles the controversy over Nancy Pelosi's recent remarks on Iraq:
"She said that while some people think Bush has 'great resolve . . . resolve must be accompanied by judgment and a plan. The emperor has no clothes. When are people going to face the reality and pull the curtain back?'
"Perhaps anticipating what was likely to happen next, Pelosi noted that Republicans 'cannot say that anyone who criticizes their failures is not supportive of the troops.' The war in Iraq can be won, she said, with a 'better plan' and a new commander in chief.
"Those words were too much for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who accused Pelosi of employing 'irresponsible, dangerous rhetoric.' He added, 'Her party has a responsibility to the troops and to this nation to show unity in a time of war.' Representative Tom Reynolds, who's in charge of increasing GOP numbers in the House this fall, said Pelosi should 'go back to her pastel-colored condo in San Francisco and keep her views to herself,' according to The New York Times.
"It's ironic that DeLay is making these comments, considering that he helped orchestrate the GOP effort to criticize the timing of the bombing in Iraq in 1998 (while at the same time driving Bill Clinton's impeachment). And given that the war in Iraq and the war on terrorism show no signs of ending anytime soon, it's ridiculous to expect Democrats to put aside their criticism for the foreseeable future. But it also shows that Republicans are nervous -- and rightly so -- about how the Iraq War will affect Bush's re-election chances."
In light of the Pew survey showing 24 percent of national journalists consider themselves liberals and just 7 percent conservatives, this piece by Vanessa Pierce of the Seattle Times opinion page is particularly timely. It appeared in Portland State University's Vanguard:
"When I was applying for reporting jobs after graduation last year, I felt obligated to tell editors that I am a Republican. Why? Subconsciously, I think it was a test. My test would determine the media bias once and for all.
"When I applied for an arts and entertainment section, the editor asked me how I could objectively report on art if I didn't agree with the National Endowment for the Arts. My rationale stemmed from core beliefs involving conservative theory; nonetheless, I told her that art is a necessary component to our culture. It didn't matter. It was no interview, but rather an attack. I had to defend my beliefs, not my capability.
"The anecdotes could go on and on. My conclusion: The media are biased.
"Now, to the credit of my current employer, who hired me knowing full well that I am a Republican, I still feel like part of the minority of conservatives in the media."
Finally, if you've been following the Washingtonienne sex "scandal"--or what passes for one in this town--here are some entries from the original Wonkette scoop; The Post's Rich Leiby, here and here; the New York Post; the National Debate, and some site I never heard of that has additional soft-core pictures of Wonkette (who I've interviewed) and Washingtonienne (who I never heard of until her sex-filled blog became public). Updates include an HIV scare, a Fox interview and a possible Playboy offer.
Or, if you're too busy for this sort of thing, you can read up on the Patriot Act.
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